Relay team aims to deep-six record for continuous swim

The Ventura Deep-Six Relay Team

Masters swimmers Mike Shaffer, John Chung, Jim Neitz, Jim McConica, Kurt Baron and Tom Ball love the water and have plenty of competitive juices flowing through them.

So when the idea of attempting to set a new world mark for the longest continuous open-water swim by a relay team was suggested, they decided not only to go for the record but shatter it.

The Ventura Deep Six, as they’re calling themselves, will attempt to swim a total of 202 miles nonstop along the Southern California coast. Starting on Thursday, Sept 16, at 6 a.m., they’ll dive into the water at Ventura Harbor and swim 26 miles to Stearns Wharf, turn around and head southeast for their final destination of La Jolla Cove in San Diego, a distance of 176 miles.

Here is the course on a sattelite image.

They’re attempting to obliterate the current relay record of 78.2 miles set by two teams on Lake Taupo in New Zealand in January of 2009. An all-male team did a triple-crossing of the lake in 33 hours, 31 minutes and 15 seconds. A six-woman relay squad also completed the achievement in 33 hours, 33 minutes and 43 seconds.

So, who came up with the idea to attempt this Mount Everest-like journey in the Pacific Ocean?

“Kurt Baron,” Shaffer said. “It was his initial idea to do a 100-mile relay in a lake with houseboat support, but when Jim McConica was asked to join the team, he bumped it up to 200-plus miles in the ocean to make it tougher.”

McConica, 59, is a legendary open-water swimmer from Ventura who has logged hundreds of miles in the ocean, including several Santa Barbara Channel crossings.

Renowned open-water swimmer Steven Munatones, the editor of the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, and a member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, wrote of the Ventura Deep Six’s risk-taking adventure: “Their venue of choice is not in a calm lake or warm, tropical sea — but their marine backyard where sharks, jellyfish and blue whales have appeared by increasingly frightening frequency.

“They will attempt to set the bar at time when the Pacific is at historically low (cold) temperatures, but they are very well-prepared to be battered by ocean swells, cross currents and punishing surface chop for over three straight days far from shore.

“These are six very gutsy men”

Updates and video on the relay team’s progress can be seen at:

The Deep Six are members of the Ventura County Masters Swim Club. Shaffer, Chung and Ball have Santa Barbara ties. Shaffer, 45, was an All-American swimmer at UCSB in the 1980s and an elite-level triathlete, Ball, 50, worked as a local beach lifeguard for many years, and Chung, the youngest member of the team at 40, is a dentist in Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Wearing just a swim suit, goggles and swim cap, each member of the team will swim one hour intervals around the clock following the same order — in accordance to English Channel and Catalina Island rules of open water relay swimming — to the finish. If everything goes according to plan, they expect to arrive in La Jolla Cove by Sunday afternoon.

McConica will be the first in the water followed by Baron (46), Chung, Shaffer, Ball and Neitz (42).

Asked if this is the craziest thing he’s ever done, Chung replied, “It is definitely up there, for sure. It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t.”

Chung, who swam and played water polo in high school and college, is confident the group will succeed.

“We have prepared the best we can and we have confidence in each other,” he said. “Everybody has a history of competing in open water swims.”

Chung feels honored to part of the team, especially since he was asked to join by McConica.

“I was flattered,” said Chung, who finished an impressive eighth place in July’s Semana Nautica 6-mile race that included several veteran open-water swimmers.

“I’ve trained harder for this, because I don’t want to let these guys down,” he said.

As part of the training, Chung and Neitz for two days and nights simulated the routine of sleeping for five hours and then jumping into the water to swim for an hour. They

Chung will be swimming a shift at 2 a.m.

The swimmers will be tracked by GPS throughout the journey. They will be guided by the mother ship, the 135-foot cruise ship Pacific Monarch, another escort boat, two Zodiacs, multiple kayaks manned by an around-the-clock, 12-person boat crew, three observers and four additional support crew.

Their attempt also will be filmed for a feature-length documentary.

The event is sponsored by and in support of Buenaventura Swim Club and Ventura County Masters Program.